HADDAM — The state’s first official state troubadour, a Marine Corps veteran, has wrestled with reports of Selectman Melissa Schlag taking a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance, an act that incensed residents and the country alike since last month.
So Tom Callinan of Norwich did what you might expect a troubadour to do: He wrote a song about the conflict.
His song, “Schlag and the Flag,” contains the lines “She won’t stand up to salute ‘Old Glory’ / ‘Cause of President Trump, so goes her story / But the flag is not the man / It’s the symbol of our land.”
The refrain continues: “If she’s got a beef with the president / Why does she take it out on her constituents? / Two wrongs won’t make things right / She should stand on meeting nights.”
Schlag’s action on those meeting nights spurred passionate support, as well as heated and sometimes vicious reactions. She said her decision to take a knee was inspired by President Donald Trump’s actions, as well as his administration’s immigration policy.
The debate over First Amendment rights exploded into a national debate over patriotism and accusations of dereliction of duty. It started July 16 when Schlag took a knee as the Pledge of Allegiance was recited at a Board of Selectmen meeting.
She knelt on two knees at the July 30 selectman’s meeting in front of a jam-packed audience at the Haddam Volunteer Fire Co. station bay, inciting harsh criticism, with a smaller group supporting her.
The town is familiar to Callinan, who “missed going into Vietnam by one man,” as he did his student teaching at Haddam Junior High School. He is co-owner of Crackerbarrel Entertainments.
“I’m very attuned to what goes on there, and really was sad to hear of this,” said Callinan, who learned about the controversy through TV news stories and The Press. “I couldn’t believe this was going on in this nice little town, putting people at loggerheads with each other.”
Callinan, a Middletown native, and his wife, Ann Shapiro, executive director of the Connecticut Storytelling Center, also once had a cottage in Clinton.
Like Schlag, he suffered angst years ago, while serving a 41/2- year stint on the Clinton Zoning Board of Appeals.
While Callinan, who has never met Schlag, served on the Clinton ZBA, the panel did something that upset him, so he tried to present his opinion during public session as president of the Clinton Beach Association. He was told an ordinance prevented him from doing so because the issue could come before the ZBA.
“When they wouldn’t let me speak, I said, ‘OK. I’m going to resign right now. I’m going to speak.”
Schlag took issue with the lyrics, saying it will perpetuate negative reactions and could prompt even more insults and threats that have been lodged at her since the controversy erupted. Schlag does layout and design for the Haddam Bulletin.
“This ‘song’ just proves the point I’ve made all along. Nobody wants to have a serious discussion about issues, and bends the decision to kneel for their own twisted reasons to fit their own narrative,” Schlag said Thursday.
“This song completely misrepresents the reasons for kneeling and actually exacerbates the issue of division in Haddam. Regardless, he’s too late, it’s already gotten out of hand.”
“The past three weeks have shown me the disgusting hatred some human beings have for one another when they don’t agree or don’t understand,” Schlag said. “They can’t have a normal conversation, yet put words in my mouth and feelings in my heart that aren’t there.”
Callinan, who said he had no personal animus toward Schlag, mailed a copy of the song to First Selectwoman Lizz Milardo, but she hadn’t received it by Thursday morning.
“I am working on behalf of the town and town business, I do not get paid to listen to songs about Melissa Schlag,” she said.
Callinan is hoping to have the song on YouTube sometime next week.
“It’s not proper to get the whole community up in arms. You’re elected as a representative of the town, not as a political ideologue from a certain party or perspective,” Callinan said.
As a songwriter, Schlag’s name was too irresistible, he said.
“The fact that Schlag rhymes with flag was just a gift from heaven. I don’t feel good about writing the song because I’m sad this is happening,” he said. “I don’t think my song is going the change anything, I just had to get it out or it would just consume my brain. I don’t want to have that dark perspective when I’m going out to entertain and lift people’s spirits.”
“There are so many real things that affect our town and our citizenry in general within our communities and greater society to put a wedge in the whole thing — it’s counterproductive,” he said.
“I urge everyone to practice compassion and understanding, because without it we won’t heal and America will be anything but great,” Schlag said.